We can leave her for a while pondering her future maybe while we catch up with her son; Margaret would obviously feel exposed and under pressure with the death of her Beaufort family, Edward IV on the throne and Jasper and Henry in flight; but she did not feel quite the urgency she had when Edmund died.
Jasper and Henry fled not to France but to Brittany; they probably didn’t mean to do that – after all Jasper had cultivated positive relationships at the French court; and as the expression goes, if you are going to break a fast, why would you do so for onions? Not that I am saying Brittany is an onion, but it was of course much less powerful than the French monarchy. However, the wind blew in the wrong direction, and they landed instead at Le Conquet, on the Breton coast.
Now I know what you are thinking – that Brittany is in France, isn’t it? Well, yes and no in point of fact. Brittany had spent much of its existence fighting off bigger neighbours, though it hadn’t by any means always played the role of victim; Alan the Red for example invaded England along with Billy the Conq and was the original Earl of Richmond. But Brittany’s Dukes had fought hard to remain independent from first the Angevin kings, and then the French kings.
The Duke when Jasper and Henry landed was one Duke Francis, and he’d been under pressure for some time from successive French kings – Louis XI and Charles VIII. We might think of France’s borders as bit obvious, but even as late as the 15th century they were not; in fact from 1484 to 1488 various noble houses would make a last gasp attempt to maintain their independence under the French crown rather than be incorporated, in a war called the Mad War; and Duke Francis would be at the forefront of that fight. His only heir was his daughter Anne, so Francis was fighting the certainty that Anne would take Brittany as a dower into any marriage. Fighting a more powerful enemy in France, with succession being a bit problematic, meant that Francis was batting on what you might call a sticky wicket.
So when Jasper and Henry turned up on his shores you can be confident that Francis’ response was not driven by carefree and heartfelt love and friendship, or just a desire to help. It was driven by the arrival of a nice bright bargaining chip on his doorstep, a weapon in the fight to remain independent. So when he ‘welcomed with great joy’ you can bet he did, and indeed he brushed the Bath Bun of history with an iced sugar coating; but when he welcomed them
With such honour, courtesy and favour entertained them as though they had been his brothers, promising them upon his honour that within his dominion they should be henceforth far from injury, and pass at their pleasure to and fro without danger
It was much like the Child catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang showing the children into the brightly decorated cart – from which the finery was then whipped away to reveal the bars of the cage. Jasper and Henry were in fact Francis’ prisoners, and they’d better hope that the scales did not drop in favour of an English alliance – or else they could be soup.
Let me take you to London in 1464, and the disturbed sleep of one Margaret Stanley. Margaret is the daughter of one of the most powerful men in the land, Thomas Stanley. Thomas Stanley is from a powerful family, who dominate the North West of England. They had backed the right horse in the Wars of the Roses so far, though Thomas was a notoriously cautious man politically, whose strategy as far as possible was just to keep his nose clean. He might be described as the Del Boy of the Wars of the Roses, always ducking and weaving. But Edward of York had wanted him, wanted his for his stranglehold over the North West; and by 1464, Stanley appeared to have ridden the risks he took in popping his head above the parapet and supporting the Yorkist pretender, and could turn his concentration back to what the nobility did best – keeping an iron grip on their lordships, and extending them where they could.
Back to Margaret Stanley then; Margaret was having a bad dream. She dreamed that her husband, Sir John Butler was at Bewsey, their home in the North West and saw an image of the castle in her dreams; but the moat looked strange, and as her dream came closer, she saw that the moat was filled with blood. She screamed and woke, called for her servants and made them pack in a panic so she could start the long journey to Bewsey.
The very night she dreamed, John Butler was in his castle, proud and strong. Once again Thomas Lord Stanley had come to him and demanded he wear the Stanley livery when the king came to visit, to be his man – but the proudly independent Butler had scornfully refused, saying he was every bit as capable of entertaining the king as he was. As he mused with satisfaction on his defiance, unknown to him some traitorous servants had placed candles in the windows of the castle. Seeing the signal, men in the service of Thomas Stanley set leather boats on the moat and crossed over to the castle, to be let in by Butler’s treacherous servants. Suddenly the door to Butler’s bedchamber burst open, in charged Stanley’s knights and before he could cry out they slaughtered John Butler in his bed before making their escape. By the time she arrived, Margaret Stanley had heard of her husband’s death, and swore vengeance.
This story is contained in various collections in differing versions as the Ballad of Sir John Butler. In one version, Margaret marries again to a Lord Grey, but pursues the Stanley’s for the death of her husband; so that Thomas Stanley was called to answer for his actions before the king. But Lord Grey and Stanley conspire against Margaret, her law suits are blocked, and anyway Thomas Stanley is too powerful for the king to lose to any such vague concept as justice. As so Margaret left her new husband, and commissioned her figure to lie at the right hand side of John Butler’s tomb. Role Credits.
So what am I telling you this? Well partly to tell you a folktale of old merrie England. And to give you a flavour of what it took to hold on to a regional power base in medieval days partly a mixture of generosity, the careful cultivation of lord and retainer relationships – and brutal retribution where necessary. Just watch the Godfather to find out more – as I have just now done for about the billionth time by the way.
But also because it was said Thomas Stanley on whom fell Margaret Beaufort’s female gaze. Margaret was well aware that she was once again valuable property on the marriage market, and did not look forward to being sold off to the highest bidder – she was well used to making her own choices. Also, she had just moved up the ladder of peril – being the mother now of the one remaining Lancastrian candidate to the throne. Essentially in cauterising the wound that was the wars of the Roses, there was one biddy little wound to cope with and its name was Henry Tudor; he had a pretty rubbish claim to the throne, but it was better than any other non Yorkist. So she needed to demonstrate to Edward IV that she was no threat.
The Stanley family tradition was that the marriage of Thomas Stanley to Margaret was the work of old match making mother Edward, ‘that king royal who married you to the Margaret Richmond’. However, this might well be post rationalisation, since really Margaret’s marriage was not in the king’s gift; and certainly Margaret had a powerful hand in the negotiations, and cut herself a very good deal financially.
So, assuming this was not a marriage of passion again, what was in it for the two of them? For Margaret she was aligning herself with one of the most trusted men at the centre of the Yorkist court; this marriage must once more help allay Edward’s suspicions about her; and by protecting herself, she protected her son also. Plus, she had the prospect of influencing official policy towards her son. Also quite simply, she married into a rich and influential family with all the benefits that brought with it. The marriage was a catch for her; and the fruit of the last years with Stafford, of toeing the Yorkist line. For Stanley – well he got his grubby mits on Margaret’s very considerable tracts of land. She was a catch for him too.
As it happens though, Stanley’s position was less secure in 1471 than it had been in the 1460s. In the earlier decade, he’d lived on the fruits of his support for Edward, but in 1471 he had played the game that is his signature to history – neither hunting with the hounds nor running with the hare, but rather digging with the Ostrich. He had not been at Edward’s side in the bloody battles of 1471.
However two things spoke for him. His little brother William Stanley had been at Edward’s side. And the Stanley family was simply too powerful to ignore. So Edward had made him Steward of the Royal Household, and a member of the King’s Council. If Edward had forgiven Stanley, it is less sure that Edward’s brother, Richard of Gloucester had done so. Stanley had not just established his control of the North West against the likes of John Butler – he was prepared to take on the most powerful in the land. In 1469, Edward had appointed Gloucester to a number of Duchy of Lancaster offices previously held by Stanley. Defying his king, Stanley made it impossible for Gloucester to assume his responsibilities. The struggle for local control led to open warfare – Gloucester assembled an army at Preston intending to attack and burn Stanley’s great house at Lathom, but was put to flight by the Stanleys at Ribble Bridge. So, there was form for the future, a small splinter, festering and working its way to the heart of the body politic.
Margaret and Stanley were married in June 1472. Again it is very difficult to know anything personal about their relationship, and the consensus seems to be that the marriage was not the meeting of minds that she had known with Stafford. However, there are certainly very strong signs of mutual respect. Margaret took many of her own retainers with her to her new marriage – Reginald Bray in particular – though she did not establish a separate household; her own favoured servants became a trusted part of their joint household. Margaret retained a level of control in her south western estates, giving her the control to protect her son’s inheritance. But her influence was not confined to her own inheritance, she also helped administer the traditional Stanley heartlands, acting as arbiter over disputes in the estates around Lathom. Once again, her marriage seems to have been a partnership like that with Stafford.
The pair of them also spent a lot of time in each other’s company, at Knowsley and Lathom – but also as a king’s councillor Stanley was often called to London, and Margaret would go with him. And in so doing, Margaret became a well known figure at court, far more than she had been when married to Stafford. In 1476, Margaret and Stanley were part of the celebrations at Fotheringhay to install Richard of York and Edward of Rutland in their magnificent new tombs – Margaret more than ever, then, seems to have been at the centre of Yorkist court life; a trusted figure, whose son was discretely put to one side.
I think, though, but do not know, that it’s possible to over relax about this. It seems very unlikely that Margaret would have any ambition at this point for Henry her son to become Henry the king of England. Margaret is often painted as a political beast, and there is evidence for that, but the evidence comes at specific moments – and mainly under Richard III. At other times she seems purely motivated in political terms by defending her physical safety and the birthright and safety of her son – as you would. There’s no sign of plotting against York – albeit a rather over enthusiastic acceptance of the regime change to Lancaster in 1470.
However having said that, as I say it pays to be cautious. Edward did indeed have Henry Tudor in his sights – he continued to see him as a threat. He can’t have carried out his efforts to get his paws on Henry without considering the impact on the lad’s mother; he must have always been at least slightly wary of her. Because in the 1470s, there were times when Henry Tudor’s life became distinctly uncomfortable.